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Experienced/Inexperienced
Private/Commercial
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Accident Description


 Kayaker rescued from creek

by Garrett Andrews Durango Herald News Herald Staff Writer

Article Last Updated; Thursday, May 28, 2009

A lawyer from Pennsylvania was injured as he kayaked in Vallecito Creek, and he was extracted by emergency personnel up a 70-foot gorge.The kayaker, Don Smith, 42, of Pittsburgh, was injured in the rapid Trash Can about two miles north of Vallecito Reservoir. He exited his craft in the rapid and swam out to the right side of the river, coming to rest about a half mile downstream, near the rapid Pick up Sticks. Butch Knowlton, director of search-and-rescue operations for the La Plata County Sheriff's Department, said Smith injured his lower leg.

Lt. Matt Sowash with the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District helps kayaker Don Smith on Wednesday out of the Vallecito Creek gorge, about a mile up Vallecito Creek trail. Smith needed to be rescued after suffering injuries to his leg while kayaking the advanced rapids on the creek.

Several other kayaking parties came upon Smith and offered aid. One kayaker rode downstream, hiked to a phone and called 911. Another party included two medical professionals - Eric Parker, an emergency room registered nurse at Mercy Regional Medical Center and Dan Steaves, an emergency medical technician with the Upper Pine Fire Protection District - who advised others against an amateur extraction. Members of Smith's party had prepared a splint for his leg and were planning to move him out of the gorge without contacting rescue authorities.

A member of Smith's party, Adam Johnson of Warrenton, Va, said Smith has about 15 years of kayaking experience and has ridden Vallecito Creek between 10 and 20 times. At 3:06 p.m. a call went in to the Upper Pine Technical Rescue Team, and contact with Smith was made by emergency personnel at 4:27 p.m. A hauling system was set up near the top of the gorge. Smith was delivered to the trailhead at 7:45 p.m. Johnson described the incident: "He did this maneuver where he tried to run through the first rapid and got turned backwards and ended up going through the second part of the rapid backwards. He turned upside down and was ejected from his boat and during that ejection, he twisted his ankle or did something to his lower leg."